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My Uncle S. Jolson

By Lois Jolson

A number of years ago, I decided to look through some Yiskor books. I was a neophyte researcher at the time and was feeling my way through the maze that is the New York City Public Library. The room I was directed to was small by comparison with only four long desks to sit and work from. I sat across from a frum gentleman who was avidly reading Yiddish text.

The Wyszogrod Yizkor book was placed in front of me and I reverently opened the pages. To my surprise, a great number of pages were in English. I read each article word for word. The remainder of the book was written in Hebrew, and while I know the letters and can read the text, I have virtually no understanding of the language. What to do? I searched through the names of those who were lost and found my great grandfather Herschel listed amongst the martyrs. I then decided to look through each photograph searching the captions for names that sounded familiar.

When I got to page 104, I swallowed a scream. I covered my mouth, looked up with what I suppose were eyes that sparkled and saw the gentleman across from me smiling and nodding. I looked back down at page 104 and felt my heart palpitate. There in the bottom of a group photograph was a face that looked like the image of my father. I ran through the caption and there he was: S. Jolson

My father was born to Abraham and Rebecca Jolson in Pittsburgh, PA, and was orphaned early in his life. We had no knowledge of the Jolson family. Many years before, a man called out of the blue and said he was Uncle Sam and lived in Brooklyn, NY. He told us he came to the US via HIAS in the 1950's. This was a photo from 1947. It had to be the same man. I had photocopies made.

In 1999, I found a family descended from Herschel Jolson. To triple check our family connection, I scanned the photo from the Yiskor book and sent it to David Zaitman in Israel who I thought to be my father's first cousin. David recognized the photograph as Uncle Shei who lived in Brooklyn. David remembered his mother writing to her brother Abraham in Pittsburgh. In return, I received a photograph of David's sister and her husband standing in a Pittsburgh home with the couple who brought them out of the refugee camps to the US. As it turned out, that same couple brought my grandfather, Abraham Jolson to the US.

All it took was one photograph for a family to reconnect...

The first remembrance assembly at the initiative
of Chanoch Levin
A DP camp in Germany Poking Waldstaat, Tevet 6, 5708 (December 19th, 1947)
Standing (from right) H. Levin, D. Bomberg - Alencwajg, G. Kirszenboim, W. Szladow, Hazan (the cantor), Yoske Levin, A. Rura, A. Gmach, A. Levin - Szladow a baby in her arms, G. Levin-Firsztenberg
Seated (from right): N. L. Daicz, M.M. Swarc, S. Joelson

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